For more than a decade, with the news industry under deepening financial strain, grant makers have invested millions in technology, innovation and business model experiment, eager to harness the restless vigor and highly profitable Silicon Valley start-up ethos on behalf of our struggling free press.
Yet today, the post-election spike in newspaper subscriptions notwithstanding, critical indicators of journalism’s public-interest mission are in retreat. News deserts, “fake news” and highly profitable partisan media are proliferating, while legacy news media’s twin-horned crisis of trust and sustainability only deepens. Nor are we making much progress in replacing almost 240,000 newspaper jobs that disappeared from 2001 to 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Perhaps it’s time for some existential questions. Is it actually the business of philanthropy to try to save the news industry? Shouldn’t we be focused instead on saving journalism as a public-interest practice — and as charitable work?